Pedro Castillo experiences his first government crisis in Peru with the resignation of the foreign minister

Héctor Béjar claimed in a former statement that "terrorism in Peru was started by the navy"
Peru's President Pedro Castillo leaves Congress after his inauguration ceremony, in Lima, Peru, 28 July 2021.

REUTERS/ANGELA PONCE  -   Peru's President Pedro Castillo leaves Congress after his inauguration ceremony, in Lima, Peru, 28 July 2021

The President of Peru, Pedro Castillo, faces his first major government crisis with the resignation on Tuesday of his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Héctor Béjar, who had been in office for 19 days, after old statements were made public in which he claimed that "terrorism in Peru was started by the navy".

After two days of intense criticism, Béjar presented his irrevocable resignation and Castillo will now have to make forced changes to his cabinet, which has been harshly questioned by the opposition, who since the beginning of his mandate have been demanding the departure of several ministers they consider to be radical leftists, including the now ex-chancellor.

The 85-year-old sociologist and former guerrilla fighter's resignation as foreign minister comes less than ten days before the new government is due to go to parliament for a vote of confidence, scheduled for 26 August.

Héctor Béjar, ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Perú
AFP PHOTO/PRESIDENCY OF PERU/CESAR FAJARDO - Héctor Béjar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru
Controversial statements

Although Béjar's arrival at the Torre Tagle Palace, the seat of the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, was controversial from the outset, criticism of him intensified last Sunday, when statements were published in which he claimed that "terrorism in Peru was started by the navy".

The sociologist, who founded the short-lived Peruvian National Liberation Army (ELN) and got to know Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Cuba, said that "this can be demonstrated historically and they have been trained for this by the CIA".

Béjar's comments came in a virtual chat with left-wing supporters in February, when Castillo was still a largely unknown candidate and not among the likely winners of the elections.

El líder histórico de la guerrilla izquierdista Sendero Luminoso, Abimael Guzmán (izq.), y a su esposa Elena Yparraguirre, escuchando la sentencia de cadena perpetua en una audiencia en el Callao, en las afueras de Lima, el 11 de septiembre de 2018, por un atentado en 1992 en Lima que mató a 25 personas y dejó cientos de heridos
AFP PHOTO/PERUVIAN JUDICIARY/FRANCISCO MEDINA - Historic leader of the leftist guerrilla group Shining Path, Abimael Guzman (L), and his wife Elena Yparraguirre, listening to a life sentence at a hearing in Callao, on the outskirts of Lima, on September 11, 2018, for a 1992 bombing in Lima that killed 25 people and left hundreds wounded.

In the recording, the former foreign minister allegedly alludes to events in the 1970s, although most Peruvian and opposition media have interpreted it as a reference to the internal armed conflict (1980-2000), unleashed by the Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path and the Marxist Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) clearly establishes that it was Sendero who broke away from the democratic system to start an armed struggle with terrorist acts that left some 69,000 dead, most of them at the hands of this group led by Abimael Guzmán.

The day before, the dissemination of this talk was branded as manipulation by the Peruvian Foreign Ministry and as an "affront" by the Navy, while the opposition anticipated a possible motion of censure against Béjar in Congress.

So far, the only public statements made by the former official after his resignation was confirmed were posted on social networks, where he said: "I am free again! The struggle continues".

Guido Bellido, primer ministro de Perú
REUTERS/ANGELA PONCE - Guido Bellido, Prime Minister of Peru
Opportunity for change

The former foreign minister was one of the ministers that the parliamentary opposition demanded that Castillo change in order to give the government a vote of confidence, considering that he was one of the figures most closely linked to the radical left and close to Vladimir Cerrón, the leader and founder of the ruling party, the Marxist Peru Libre.

Now, Béjar's resignation forces Castillo to find a replacement who, if he has a more moderate profile, could pave the way for the 26 August, when the cabinet will appear before the full parliament to present the government's general policy and request the investiture.

Even so, there are still few guarantees due to the rejection of the prime minister, Guido Bellido, a sexist and homophobic congressman, who has been charged with terrorism for alleged links with the remnants of the Shining Path and for money laundering in the alleged illicit financing of his campaign.

This investigation, which was opened last week by the Public Prosecutor's Office, also implicates Cerrón and Peru Libre congressman Guillermo Bermejo.

Bellido is also being prosecuted for allegedly defending terrorism by claiming on social networks Edith Lagos, one of the famous faces of the early years of Sendero.